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What kind of leader do we want in nursing?

Leadership can be an art; finding the balance of the ability to lead and devlivering compassionate nursing care is one nurse leaders strive for.  

There are many skills required of those who provide nursing care today, but perhaps one of the most unrecognised and least developed, at every level and in every care setting, is that of leadership. What kind of leader do we want in nursing?

What type of leadership style enables nurses to remain focused on the core values of our profession? What can nurses as leaders bring to discussions about healthcare that others cannot? In other words, what makes nursing leadership stand apart?

Clearly defined nursing

Nursing needs leaders at every level who are clear about what our profession represents and how we can progress in the changing world of health and social care. Brykczynska (1997) pointed out, 30 or so years ago, that 'without caring, nursing would represent an incomplete or even disingenuous and non-efficacious picture of what it is about.

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There are many skills required of those who provide nursing care today, but perhaps one of the most unrecognised and least developed, at every level and in every care setting, is that of leadership. What kind of leader do we want in nursing?


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What type of leadership style enables nurses to remain focused on the core values of our profession? What can nurses as leaders bring to discussions about healthcare that others cannot? In other words, what makes nursing leadership stand apart?

Clearly defined nursing

Nursing needs leaders at every level who are clear about what our profession represents and how we can progress in the changing world of health and social care. Brykczynska (1997) pointed out, 30 or so years ago, that 'without caring, nursing would represent an incomplete or even disingenuous and non-efficacious picture of what it is about. It would be nursing without its soul'.

This still holds true. I want to work alongside nursing colleagues who recognise the uniqueness of nursing as a profession based on the art of caring for others and how this can help and creatively shape our practice and our healthcare service. I often ask nursing students why they have chosen this career; in the main, their responses reflect the art of compassion and care in their thoughts and aspirations. The challenge for each nurse is to bring together the art of caring and the art of leadership to everything they do.

Greenleaf (1997), who developed the idea of 'servant leadership', described this style as one that is focused on the growth and well-being of others and the community. This approach moves the leader from a place of power to one of engaging with others as a servant so that the leader is there to serve members of the team and to help them develop their potential.

'The art of leadership still requires credibility, courage, vision and an ability to engage'

This moves us away from the more hierarchical approach often seen in healthcare to the idea that those who lead are not there to control or rule others. It means that, while being mindful of resources, we move beyond the primary focus on the pathology of disease to addressing the personal experience of illness and what this means for the individual.

Compassion and awareness

In the face of increasing demands and requirements, the servant leader approach in nursing can support us towards more compassionate care. Chochinov (2007) describes compassion as a deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it.

Cassell (1991), in exploring the nature of suffering in illness, spoke of doctors’ and nurses’ avoidance of suffering and of the urgent need to engage with the suffering of those who are ill. Today this need to acknowledge, to engage with and to help ease others’ distress remains, and the servant leader approach lends itself to engaging, empowering and supporting staff who face the suffering of others every day.

The art of leadership still requires credibility, courage, vision and an ability to engage and include, but perhaps what makes great nursing leadership stand apart is the ability to lead through serving others and delivering compassionate nursing care.

References

  • Brykczynska G (1997) A brief view of the epistemology of caring. In Brykczynska G, Jolley M Caring (eds) Caring: The Compassion and Wisdom of Nursing. Arnold, London.
  • Cassell E (1991) The Nature of Suffering and the Goals of Medicine. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • Chochinov J (2007) Dignity and the essence of medicine the A, B, C and D of dignity conserving care. British Medical Journal. 335, 184-187.
  • Greenleaf RK (1997) Servant Leadership. Paulist Press, New York NY.

About the author

Barry Quinn is director of nursing at Woking and Sam Beare Hospices, Surrey, and senior lecturer at the University of Surrey

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